Archive for the ‘Medium Meditations’ Category

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Musical Musing: Every Second, Matthew West

April 16, 2009

Happy
I have been blessed to have been a sort of newlywed for nearly 11 years now. I don’t mean to say that my marriage hasn’t had it’s rough patches; we certainly struggled through some ugly days and rough patches. But somewhere in the almost 11 years we’ve been married, it feels like we never lost the magic of those days when we were first married, or even before that, when we were “just” dating.

I look at my husband, and I marvel that this man has chosen to make me his, to include me in his life forever, to commit all his tomorrows to ensuring I’m in them. I don’t know what I did to win the heart of this marvelous man. This is the man who went out before I was awake to get me chocolate milk, knowing it would delight my heart. He is always looking for ways to light my face with a smile, to make my day better, to make my life a rewarding one. It has been his encouragement that pushed me to finally really launch my writing career, and it has been such a delight to me to watch him get as excited about the projects and challenges ahead of us as I am about my writing.

I still remember after our first date how I found myself thinking about him, how I wondered what he would think of what I was doing, what he would have ordered at dinner… I was out with my sister and her friends, but my mind was hundreds of miles away, with him. As we continued to date, I found that when I thought of travelling, I always thought of coming back to him… or better yet, turning to him as he stood beside me, to share it with him. I couldn’t picture my life without him in it.

Have you ever loved that way, Beloved? Have you ever been so crazy about someone that you just wanted to spend every minute of your life with them? Did you find yourself forgetting that you had a life before your lover, or incapable of conceiving how you’d cope without them? Have you ever had a love that so changes your life for the better that you never want your old life back? Have you ever been loved so completely?

Actually, the last one was a trick question. Sorry. The truth is, you have been loved so completely, you just may never have received it. I know, until you receive it, it hardly feels real, but that doesn’t change the fact that someone, right now, loves you with a love far better than even what I described earlier. You have a lover who has been pursuing you since before you were born, and who will pursue you until you die. Every sunrise brings a fresh hope for new smiles on your face, a new chance to delight you as you’ve never been delighted before. Your lover wants to just be with you, to walk with you, to talk with you, to just build a relationship with you. Your lover is committed to you, and is just waiting, hoping, that you will return even a fraction of the affection.

You see, Beloved, my marriage, like all marriages built on Biblical principles, is a portrait of the relationship between God and His people. The way John loves me is a picture of how God loves me-selflessly, unconditionally, and always with his heart aimed for my best. The way I love John is a picture of how we are supposed to love God, too. Our relationship with Him can be much like mine with John; ever new, ever refreshed. Just as I can’t imagine how I lived my life without John in my life, or how I will ever cope if I were to lose him, when I think of how life was without reliance upon my God, I fall into a stunning, heart-breaking depression.

At my wedding, the pastor who married us (John’s youth pastor) said something that I’ve remembered as “Love multiplies joys and divides sorrows.” My life with John has certainly proved him right; my life is marked by joy more than it has ever been before. I’m told I have “infectious laughter”… I have to attribute that to the lovers of my soul… my Lord and my husband. It’s easier to laugh when your lover is sharing his joys with you, is sharing your joys, is helping carry your burdens, and when you’re plugged in to the Lover of your soul.

And just as I’ve been like a newlywed for the past 11 years, so too can you keep the spark in your relationship with your God. Lamentations, a book of mourning, says that God’s love never fails; it is new every morning! In the midst of the sorrow of Lamentations, there is the hope and joy of the faithfulness of God’s unfailing love. Every day, He’s working to woo you again.

You don’t believe me that God is trying to woo you? Listen to some of the things in the second chapter of the Song of Solomon:

He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.

My lover spoke and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.’

My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.

My lover is mine and I am his;

If those aren’t the sorts of things a lover says to his beloved, or that beloved says of her lover, then I’ve been watching the wrong romance movies… because I’ve heard lines similar to them in all the blockbuster romances. And that’s just one chapter in one book!

The fulfillment I’ve found in the embrace of my Lover is unlike anything I’ve ever had. Nothing compares to the joy of being accepted for who I am, aside from what I do, who I know, what I can accomplish. To be loved just because I am is unspeakably amazing. I just want to spend every second with the Lover of my soul. And yet, this is an unselfish love… I want you to know how good it is, how good it can be.

You want that new romance again? You want that love that captures your heart and sweeps you off your feet and changes your life forever? Would you like to know the lover of your soul? Do you know, Beloved, that the reason I call you “Beloved” is because even now, the Lover of your soul is looking at you, loving you, waiting eagerly to see if you will love Him back? I call you Beloved because that is who you are, who you have always been, even if you never knew it, even if you never accept it. You can be loved in the dramatic, life-changing, heart-filling way I’ve described. You are loved. Will you risk accepting it?

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Love her like Jesus

January 30, 2009

I’d like to tell you the story of a young woman you may never meet. She’s 13 years old, and she gets $25 CAD each month to share between her guardian and herself to meet all her worldly needs. For my American readers, that’s roughly $20. She’s been orphaned, and when she first was brought to the attention of my friend, she was only 12, had already had multiple sexual partners, and was being tested for AIDS. She was fortunate enough to test negative. She’s lived with various family members, and as my friend put it, “like any typical 13 year old, she’s got a mouth and an attitude and she uses both!” She’s been used and abused, left with many physical scars from multiple beatings from people who thought she hadn’t shown them the respect they think they’re due culturally.

My friend is a missionary nurse in Namibia, serving the people there as a registered nurse, loving them even as she meets their medical needs. But she doesn’t shrink away from meeting other needs when she finds them. When she and the other missionaries there realized this young woman had no home to live in, having been turned out of another relative’s home, they enlisted the help of a translator from the village church they attend and set out to intervene. The girl’s aunt agreed to let the crazy white people, the missionaries, build a mud hut for her on the aunt’s property. The catch? While the missionaries had helped mud a hut before, they’d never built one before. Not only that, this is the rainy season. If it rained while they were mudding, or before the mud could dry and cure, the entire venture would be, well, forgive the pun, a wash. But that didn’t stop them. They enlisted the help of others, and yesterday, they went to the aunt’s property and built this young woman a mud hut. Apart from a few spits and sputters in the early morning, before the mudding, there was no rain… and as of 6 am local time, there still has been no rain.

So, what’s the big deal? Why am I telling you the story of this girl you’ll never meet, the story of a young woman that even my missionary friend will have to leave behind when she leaves the country to come home in a few weeks? Why did the story of this girl stop me where I am, here, thousands of miles away, safe in an insulated home that is in no danger of washing away in a good rain?

Simple, Beloved. God loves her. God created her to love her. She was born to be loved. Right now, there is no one in her life who can love her the way God loves her. None of her relatives love her that way. She’s just another burden to them. Another mouth to feed. None of her classmates love her that way. They beat her if she doesn’t respond the way they want her to. Everyone in her life holds her up to some standard and finds her wanting… and as if that wasn’t bad enough, they beat her and scar her young body for failing their tests. She has no one in her life that will love her the way God loves her; unconditionally, without expectation, a pure, undefiled love that can’t be perverted or misconstrued for anything else.

The story of this girl catches me where I am because I know this child. I’ve been this child. No, I’ve never been this exact child, living on less than $20 a month in sub-Saharan Africa. And I don’t mean to somehow minimize the stunning poverty and need of the undeveloped world… because absolutely, this girl’s physical needs are stunning. But just as Jesus recognized with the paralytic lowered through the roof to Him, her spiritual needs, the emotional wound in her soul, is every bit as desperate as her physical needs. And in that, she is no different than you or I are. You know her. You may have been her. But you’ve met her.

Here’s the good news; Beloved, God wants to do big things to draw her to Himself. He’s calling her name, faithfully pleading for her to come to the One who gave all He is to love her. You may never see the big things He is doing in her life, but that doesn’t mean He’s not doing them. In the case of the girl my friend knows in Africa, God has been staying the rains in the rainy season. He brought together a church and a community to give her a home. He brought women into her life to show her unconditional love, and even when my friend leaves, she won’t leave her friendless… the other missionaries will remain a bit longer. I’ll be honest, Beloved, I can’t see the way His plan will be fulfilled in her life, but in my bones, in the deepest parts of who I am, I know that He is working in this young woman’s life right now. He is doing big things to call her to a relationship with Him. Someday, she will look back, and she will see the men and women who loved her the way Jesus loves her, who were faithful to love her unconditionally until she knew how to be loved.

I don’t know if there’s anything tangible you can do for the girl in Africa… but that’s not why I’m writing tonight. If you want to do something tangible for someone in need, there are plenty of places you can do that. What I do want from you doesn’t cost you a penny… but it does cost your time and it does ask you to invest your heart in people… and that’s a radical risk, but it’s one that Christ made for us, so surely, if we’re going to be called by His name, it’s one we can take, right?

Pray for her. Pray that God will stay the rains. Pray He will protect her, not only until she can move into her hut, but also from the beatings that have marked her life so far. More than that, pray that God will bring someone into her life that will love her like Jesus loves her, with a pure love that can’t be perverted and distorted. God loves Dophelia. He wants someone to love her the way He does, someone from whom she can receive that love. And as He brings to your mind His other children, the other Dophelias, the Heathers, all of the children who feel like they have no one, pray for them, too. Pray for someone to come into their lives to show them they were never forgotten.

And Beloved, here’s the beauty of intercessory prayer: as you plead with God for someone to intervene in the life of the forgotten, He’s already answering the prayer… in you. You may not be the final answer, you may not be the tangible answer, the one that a Dophelia finally knows, but by lifting her up, by remembering her and loving her the way Jesus does (because He, too, intercedes for us before the Father, remembering us before Him), we’re already providing the answer to our prayer. And the more of us that remember her, the more of us who intercede for her, the greater the covering we place over her, the more room we give the Lord to work in her life.

Pray unceasingly. It’s all I ask. Yet… oh, Beloved, the power in that prayer, when you pray and you’re certain of the will of God. And Beloved, you can always be certain that it is the will of God that we are are loved the way He loves us! So pray, Beloved, certain that He means to answer your prayer, and watch. Because He’s stayed the rains for her so far… and I know He’s just getting started in her life.

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O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

December 11, 2008

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

I’ve included the full text of all the verses of this traditional carol/hymn, but if you’ve heard it, chances are, you’ve never heard them all, and possibly not in all the same order. It’s a very somber sounding song, but I can’t hear this song and think of a somber message; no, for me, this is a joyful message-it’s right there in the refrain, the repeated “Rejoice!”

But we’ll back up. I’ve been handling these songs as though my audience is unfamiliar with them or with the meaning underneath them, and I don’t want to stop now. So I’m just going to go over the first stanza, the one everyone who’s heard this should have heard, though the others can be found at cyberhymnal.org (warning, midi starts when you click the link, but you can turn it off at their site).

The first thing we need to address is this name, this title. “Emmanuel”. Maybe you’ve seen it “Immanuel”. Is there a difference? What does it mean? Well, as far as I can tell, there’s no difference between spelling it with an “e” or an “i”… in the original Hebrew, the vowels aren’t written down, so while in transcribing from Hebrew in the Old Testament, it’s typically written Immanuel, there’s really no reason it can’t be written the way it often is in the New Testament as Emmanuel. The word literally is a compound, taken from immanu “with us” and el “God”… so that Immanuel, Emmanuel literally means “With us God”.

That may not seem like that big a deal, but for the ancient Hebrews, this was huge. The idea that God, who created the entire world, could or would be with us, was… well, beyond breathtaking. Beyond revolutionary. Why? Because what they knew of God said that He was so holy that if they came into His presence improperly, they’d literally drop dead. The high priests who served before the Holy of Holies, who carried the sacrifice for the people’s sins in to offer it to God, did so only after making sure he was thoroughly and ritually cleaned, and only when he was wearing a garment with bells on the bottom and a rope around his ankle… because as long as he was moving in there, the bells would make noise, and the other priests knew he was still alive, and God was still pleased. But as soon as the bells stopped, the other priests knew that the high priest had fallen dead, and his body was pulled out by the rope fastened to his ankle. And this is the God who will be “with us”? The very God who told Moses that no one may see His face and live… this is the God who will be with us? Yeah, this is a big deal.

And yet, this same God had given them a prophecy, a promise that He would come to them. This prophecy was written during the Assyrian captivity, over 700 years before Christ’s birth, by the prophet Isaiah. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” So the Israelites were longing for Immanuel, for “God with us”… even with all that that might mean. They were a conquered people… having been enslaved by the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persian, Greeks, and now the Romans (and that’s not even considering the more modern history of semitic persecutions). They were ready for their mighty God to come to them and ransom them, rescue them from their long captivity.

So that’s our first verse: A plea from the people for the promised messiah, the anointed Emmanuel, God with us, to come to His people and rescue and redeem them from their long captivity. Until He comes, they must remain captive, so they are eager for Him to come to them.

And now we get to the refrain, the chorus that makes this so joyful to me, despite the minor key in which it’s set. “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!” It’s the call that says “Don’t lose hope, don’t give up; the promise isn’t forgotten; it is fulfilled, and you are remembered!” You see, we see “shall” as some nebulous future… but that, I think, is a modern American idea. In the time the carol was originally written, that “shall” wasn’t “sometime in some undefined future”, but “right now, as we speak, it’s happening!” It’s an immediate future, a right now. And what we read as overly formal in “thee”… that’s a long-forgotten informal that’s been lost in our language. That’s “buddy”, or “pal”… it’s “y’all”. This whole chorus is “Buck up, y’all- Look, God’s right here!”

Ahem. Yes, I get very excited about all of this.

Beloved, this is Christmas. God Almighty, the Creator of the Universe, keeping a centuries-old promise to His people, revolutionizing everything they’ve ever thought or known to come and be God with us. This is Moses’ Burning Bush, declaring I AM who I AM as He leads His people from captivity, putting on humility and mortality to be God with us, to keep a promise older than the one His people think He is keeping, this is the Anointed one of God, born a helpless baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, born to a virgin in a stable. This is world changing. This is revolutionary, on a scale you’ve never dared think about before. This is bigger than the baby. This is eternal in scope. This, beloved… this is Emmanuel.

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Book Review: The Shack by Willam P. Young

December 8, 2008

The Shack, by William P Young

(My review for Facebook)
I’m aware that there’s controversy, and as I was reading, there were a few places where I could see that someone might have problems. That said, I did not have problems with it. Simply put, this is one of the best books I have ever read in my entire life.
This book discusses the basic structure of man’s interaction with God; is it built on rules and limits and religion, on the law the demonstrates where we fall short of the ultimate goal of perfection, or is it, as the author would suggest, about a living, vital relationship with God? Is God a distant ruler aiming to strike us down for our failures, a cold and heartless judge condemning us to hell, or is it possible that God is, as John revealed in his epistle, Love, and moved by love, marked by love, in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine and that shatter our preconceptions, not only of God, but of what we are to be if we are to be called adopted sons and daughters of God?
If this book serves to call men and women into a deeper, truer relationship with their Savior, with the Lover of their Souls, with the Abba Father who loves us enough to create us knowing what it would cost… surely there is value in this book.
I know that the many tears I cried were bottled as I read, and I know that they will fertilize more rich growth in the garden God continues to cultivate in my soul. (end of Facebook review)
I want to make it clear that while there are things in this book that I can’t speak to theologically (the gender of God, for instance), I’m willing to dismiss them as creative license to accomplish the larger goal of giving the author a structure into which to write this discussion with God.
The core of the discussion? I have no problem with that. I can’t tell you how many times I cried, but I’ll tell you there was at least one time that I fell apart, sobbing, and had to wait for the tears to clear before I could continue (page 173)(I don’t want to say too much lest I spoil things for those who haven’t read the book).
God loves you. Desperately. God LONGS for a relationship with you… as I’ve seen before, “God thinks you’re to DIE for.” I know that’s hard to wrap your mind around, and if you’re asking “But what about the bad things?!”… you need to read this book.

Beloved, I’ve lived the bad things in life. I was raped repeatedly from the time I was 10 until I was 13. I was abused emotionally and physically by my mother and convinced myself that she couldn’t love me… which meant I couldn’t be loved. At all. By anyone. My father died in a car accident when I was 17. I can’t have children. I’ve got a litany of reasons to doubt God’s goodness or God’s love… but I don’t. I don’t doubt God’s love for me. I cling to it like an anchor in the storm. This book is the closest I’ve ever found to explaining how it is that I can find God still Good and Merciful and worth Loving (and all powerful) in the face of all the evil in this world (even in my life).

Seriously. This may be one of my new favorites EVER, and I hope to spend a good deal of time dissecting it and finding the places in Scripture that illustrate the soul-changing, life-filling, joy-giving power discussed in this tiny little read. If you haven’t yet, pick this one up.